I have not written for a while, but now—after a month and a half of grueling work—am able to turn attention to my blog, having just finalized the submission of a multi-project proposal for the second year of funding for the Financial Literacy Center.
Every year at around this time, we have to collect our best projects and ideas and submit them to our funder, Social Security. There are many valuable aspects of this process. First, it forces us to think hard about the many ongoing projects and the new ideas we have been compiling with input from our teams and then evaluate the most promising ones to submit for funding. It makes us think about the future and about the type of work we’d like to engage in over the next year.
Second, it forces us to be specific about what we want to pursue. This is the time when we need to transform ideas, conjectures, even dreams, into concrete plans that have to be described in detail, thinking not just about the outcomes we want but the manner in which we plan to achieve them.
Third, it gives us the opportunity to form new partnerships. Several of our proposed projects have become multi-disciplinary, with psychologists, linguists, and law scholars collaborating with economists. And co-authors from existing projects are brought in to add their experience and insight to newly proposed projects.
But for those of you who have never dealt or submitted a grant, let me tell you that despite all of the good that comes of it, the process is grueling and the work is massive. There are strict procedures to be followed, a vast amount of documentation to be provided, deadlines to be met, and, if more than one team is involved, a lot of people to coordinate. On a scale from 1 to 10 of the unpleasant things one might do, this is probably an 8, right up there with a root canal or training for the Tour de France after major surgery.
As the submission deadline approached last week, I looked dangerously like my students on the day of a final exam: my hair uncombed, coffee cups and empty pizza boxes piling up on my desk, mail unopened, and email clogging up my inbox. Staying late at my desk, I startled more than one security guard patrolling the building to shut off the lights late at night. And, of course, the sure indicator of a grueling grant submittal period: regular doses of Prilosec after week two of the process.
Truth be told, I have gotten much better at writing grants. My first grant submissions, which I wrote with no understanding that I was competing with the giants in my field, I have to say were not received with great enthusiasm. In some cases, my submission did not even merit consideration among the proposals to be funded; in others I received rejections complemented by letters from referees who had a lot of not very friendly things to say about my research ideas. The ones I have the fondest memories of are those in which I was told I was not quite there, and was invited to re-submit. I did that, adding another two or three weeks of work (and medication), and—bingo!—I was rejected after the resubmission!
Grants have became a part of my academic life, as I need support for big projects—to hire assistants, to pay for data, and to do empirical research. Not many institutions had the stomach to fund research on financial literacy when I started working on it many years ago, and I am very happy that Social Security has been a funder and a supporter of my work from the very beginning. I will probably be collecting Social Security benefits by the time I publish this work, so I can say that Social Security has been and will be a constant in my life.
But now the submission is over; I can go back to a healthy diet and to a normal intake of coffee. I will again think positively about the future. And I am very busy catching up on sleep.